FAQ about Generation of Electricity from Solar Energy

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Why Obtain an Independent Site Assessment?
A site analysis is done to determine feasibility of, and type and size of PV system and approximate cost and return on investment. This can be done by an installation company, and they will charge you for the site assessment. If you obtain more than one quotation for a system, then you will be paying for this service more than once.

When this is done by someone such as ourselves who is not part of a sales driven installation company, our advice as to proceed or not is impartial. We can also consider types of systems that an individual company may not familiar with, that would be best for your site. A sales oriented company is biased to recommend what they can sell, is in stock and they know how to install.

Our site assessment is more detailed, and designed so you can send a copy of this to each company that you wish to have quote on your system. Each company will be quoting on an identical requirement. AND, you don't have to pay each company for the labour to do a site assessment. This is typically a faster method to obtain multiple quotations from installation companies.

What do you do when you come to survey my site?
  • Assess the roof type, size, condition and compass orientation and obstructions
  • If the roof may be suitable, visit the attic and record the attic construction details and take pictures, then measure the roof, and potential obstacles to mounting and for sources of shading.
  • If the roof is unsuitable, look for an alternative location for a pole mounted or ground mounted system
  • If a potential location is found, then do a shade analysis for that location
  • Discuss your expectations and the implications of various types of panels and locations and mounting systems.
  • Discuss the implications of tracking systems in your location.
  • Discuss manual seasonal tilt adjustment type of fixed systems.
  • Produce a predicted amount of electricity the recommended system could generate per year
  • Provide a rough financial analysis as an investment, which can be refined after you have firm quotes from several suppliers.
  • Discuss any renovation plans and how solar energy can fit into those plans
  • And naturally we collect payment for our service

Later at our office we process the data gathered and enter it into a simulation program, to more accurately predict the impact of shading, and the types of panels and inverters and the orientation of the site. Later when some quotes have been obtained, we can update the financial model and give you revised amounts.

How do you determine the shading for different seasons?
We use a tool called a Solar Pathfinder which uses a fish-eye lens to project the skyline of your site onto a graph lined with sun trajectories for each month, and time of day for each month. We do an on-site visual estimation based on this, and later on either at your site or at our office we enter this data into an analysis program that gives a more accurate determination of the loss of production due to shading throughout the year.
What does the OPA define as a Ground Mounted system?
Anything that does not meet the OPA's definition of a qualified rooftop system is classified as a ground mounted system. The unofficial definition of a rooftop is a system mounted on a building that exists at the time of the OPA application, and that rooftop is not just a "roof of convenience", but serves another primary purpose such as a home, a garage or tool shed, etc. If an application applies for a rooftop system, and later the installation is found to be a "roof of convenience", the the contract rate will be lowered to the ground mounted rate. There will doubtless be special cases that the OPA will consider, such as a house that is under construction, and wishes to use building integrated panels. Please see the latest OPA documents for the most current fine print of the definition of what is a qualified rooftop.
Why is there a different rate for Ground Mounted Panels?
The OPA decided that systems that are ground mounted were providing too great a rate of return as compared to rooftop systems. Therefore any application for a ground mounted system received by the OPA after noon on July 2, 2010 will receive the revised rate of 64.2 cents per kWh. The OPA adjusted the rates so that a typical 10 kW capacity fixed ground mounted system costing $65,000 will achieve a simple rate of return of 11%, when 75% of the capital is borrowed, and this system should take 11 years to achieve payback. All these numbers are the OPA's numbers. The OPA intends to make the rate of return of ground mounted systems similar to roof mounted systems. The OPA's assumption is that most roofs do not face the ideal direction, and may not be entirely unshaded, and may not hold a full 10kW system, therefore rooftop installations on average are not as productive as a ground mounted system. Now as of Jan 1, 2014 the price is 29.1 cents.
Is a Ground Mounted System still a good Idea?
Yes it still can be a good investment at 29.1 cents when electricty is purchased at about 15 to 18 cents depending upon the time of day. If there is not possibility of mounting panels on an un shaded south facing roof with a 20 to 45 degree slope, and at least 750 ft2 of area, then a ground mounted system will generate more electricity. If it makes 39.6/29.1 or about 36% more electricity for the same installation costs then a ground mount will yield more revenue. In many locations the are many options to adjust to make a ground mounted system more productive, such as ideal direction, optimum tilt, using polycrystalline panels and operating in an inverter limited arrangement with more than 10kW of panels with 10kW inverter capacity. A ground mounted system in a rural location can usually be located so that is is less subject to shading, which reduces a system's output. The other factor to improve your rate of return is to do some or most of the work yourself, and avoid paying the standard retail markup on the panels and inverters. Here is where a DIY person can make a big difference to their rate of return. Some other people go with a tracking mount, which costs more (About $25,000 more according to the OPA) and get about a 30 to 40% increase in the amount of electricity generated with a dual axis tracker. Note that in order to achieve these gains with a tracker, there must be a clear view of the sky right to the horizon for about 270 degrees so the panels can be unshaded from sunrise to sunset. This precludes nearly all urban locations.
The 2.0 rules introduced restrictions on where ground mounted systems are permitted. They can't be located where your lot, or any touching lots are zoned for residential purposes.
To read a lot more on this subject,please read my detailed discussion Ground Mounted Considerations
Can I do the installation myself?
If your are the homeowner or property owner you are permitted to do all aspects of the electrical installation yourself, if you have the appropriate knowledge. You may assemble the mounting frames and install the panels yourself. The only step that you may need to outsource is for a structural analysis plan for roof mounted systems when a ballasted system is planned, or the existing roof is too weak to support any more load. You will find out if this is required when you apply for a building permit for the solar installation.
Which Panel Manufacturers Produce Ontario Content Qualified Panels?
The following list is of companies that claim to have panels with Ontario content, are CSA certified, and to be in production or plan to be in Ontario before June 30, 2011. The brands listed are not necessarily sold by us, and inclusion in this list is not a brand endorsement. This list is simply to give the reader an idea of the number of companies that wish to participate in the Ontario market. Now in 2014 and the FIT 3.0 rules have dropped the Ontario content rules so that panels can be made anywhere. This is an older and incomplete list of manufacturers. They are listed in alphabetical order
  • Canadian Solar
  • CSUN
  • Heliene
  • Lumin Solar (Currently uses Tyco connectors, not compatible with Enphase inverters)
  • Opsun
  • Photowatt
  • Sharp (Only models ND-L230Q1, ND-L235Q1, ND-L240Q1) all other models are not)
  • Silfab
  • Solarnova
  • Solgate
  • SonnenPal
  • Sovello (Tyco connectors)
  • Think Solar Energy (Only models Think-230, Think-240 & Think-280)
  • Symphony -- OSM (Tyco connectors)
  • Westinghouse (summer 2011) This was formerly Andalay.
Since many of these companies have been manufacturing panels outside Ontario before 2011, beware that just buying products made by these companies does not ensure that they qualify as Ontario content. Old stock, and specials on the Internet may be for panels made outside Ontario and therefore are not qualified as Ontario content. Now with the 3.0 rules yoyu don't care!
What is the weight added to my roof by the Photovoltaic Panels?
The average panel weight for a variety of 210W panels is 2.57 lb/ft2. This will be a little higher due to the mounting system. Sloped roofs are designed to support a snow load of at least 40 lb/ft2. Therefore the panels are a small percentage of the design snow loads, and so if a roof is in good shape it does not require any strengthening. A ballasted roof mount is completely different.
Do I need any plans or study done by a Profession Engineer?
Some rooftop installations may require an engineer's study of the impact of the roof mounted system in order to get a building permit. Typically this is only required on a flat roof when a ballasted mounting system is used instead of bolting the system to the roof. The Engineer's analysis is required to show that the roof can support the anticipated load due to the ballast, and may specify how the existing roof must be strengthened.
Most of the ballasted roof mounted systems are for commercial buildings, and not on residences. A ground mounted ballasted system does not require a building permit or an Engineer's approval.
Why is the Province of Ontario paying so much for the electricity?

Quoting for an OPA web site, the motivation is:

By encouraging the development of renewable energy in Ontario, the FIT Program will:

  • help Ontario phase out coal-fired electricity generation by 2014 - the largest climate change initiative in Canada
  • boost economic activity and the development of renewable energy technologies
  • create new green industries and jobs.
Why would I be motivated to participate?
Some people like the idea of being green in that they generate as much electricity as they use. They are delighted to have an overall hydro bill of nearly zero when averaged over the year, and they support the idea of solar energy displacing coal fired peaking generating stations. These people tend to put in a smaller, (less than 10K system) because it is all they can afford. These same people tend to try to minimize their own electricity use, and thus need a smaller than average Photovoltaic system to achieve a net zero use.
Others are motivated by the government backed purchase agreement that is designed to give a reasonable rate of return for 20 years. This is purely an investment. These people typically put is the largest system that they can, up to the 10kW capacity, for the best return on investment.
How Am I Paid?
In Hydro One's territory you receive an e-mail once a month that informs you of how much power you have generated. The date of this e-mail will depend on your billing group. Then 23 days later the amount that was identified on your statement is automatically deposited into your bank account. You are paid by your local utility on behalf of the OPA, and not by the OPA directly. If you applied as a HST participant, then the amount that you are paid has an additional amount due to the HST. With Hydro One this process can be entirely paperless.
Others Hydro Utilities may be different.
Why all the concern about shade?

The heart of this subject is that solar panels are highly dependant on having the entire panel exposed to sunlight. If only one cell in a panel is shaded, the power output can drop to a 1/2 or by a 1/3. In a bulk inverter configuration this continues and a portion of the neighbouring panels that are wired in series also suffer. In brief, if there is some regular source of shade, then either the wiring arrangement of the panels is done to minimize the impact of the shade, or the system may provide a higher output if distributed inverters are used. A system with distributed inverters costs more for the parts, but can be more tolerant of shade. This is a complex subject, and is one of the reasons that you need experienced and knowledgeable people to assess the shade during the site assessment.

Is a building permit required?
A permit is required for most roof mounted systems. The fine print in the building code act is that a permit is required if the face of the solar array occupies more then 5m2 of area, which is a little less than a 1kWh system. So in practical terms, since such a system is too small to be attractive, then nearly all roof top mounted systems require a permit.

Pole mounted and ground mounted systems do not require a building permit, if they do not enclose any space.

What type of inverters do you recommend?
Installers love the per panel inverters made by Enphase, since they are easy to understand and to wire, are safer and do not require a DC disconnect switch. These also work well for a site that has some shading problems. They also provide a very nifty way of monitoring the health and output of each panel using an Internet connection. A DIY installation will be easier to do and safer than one with a bulk inverter. A system with these inverters fails gracefully if one inverter fails,while a bulk inverter system will produce no power if it fails. The repair technician also loves the ease of diagnosing the problem when something goes wrong. BUT if it is a roof mounted system it can be a pain to replace the inverter, since you have to remove the panel, or perhaps several panels to get to the inverter. On a ground mount or a pole mounted system this is not usually a concern.
Staring in 2011, the Enphase M190 module will be the preferred one to use for micro-inverter based systems, since it is assembled in Ontario and using this will help to meet the Ontario Content rules.
However a 10kWh system built with this type of inverter will cost more for the parts, and a string inverter will yield a lower cost system.
The string inverters have been in use for a couple of decades and are very mature technology. For an investment motivated installation over 2 or 3 kWh the string inverter approach will be more economical. Normally a system with a string inverter will be more reliable, with only one device to fail, instead of 50 or so smaller units.
On a large system, (over 3-5kWh) capacity with significant shading issues that can't be resolved by shifting location, etc. then a per panel inverter system may produce more power per year. Otherwise, if there is no shading, the bigger the system, the greater the advantage of the bulk inverter approach. If the prices of the Enphase inverters declines as volume of use increases, they may gradually become economical viable for bigger systems.
Why Can't I Buy Enphase D380 Inverters?
Enphase has decided to stop making the M380 inverters both in Ontario and in China for world wide distribution. Once the stock of the Ontario made D380 inverters are sold, this will no longer be available in Ontario.
For the Ontario market, there will be two inverters available. The current M190 inverter for most 60 and 72 cell panels, and the new M215-60-2LL-S22-NA inverter that will be released on June 6, 2011. This new inverter will be for 60 cell panels only. (Generally for panels 250W and less) The new inverter will be the main product, and it has been designed for higher volume production than the M190 inverter, and will be similar in price. It has a completely different cabling system, and it has a 25 year warranty. It is optimal for panels in the 230 to 260W range, and only for 60 cells. It has two types of cabling, one for 208 three phase and the other for 240 single phase. Nearly all microFIT installations are single phase. This also differs in that it attaches with a single bolt instead of two. There are two different cable assemblies, one for portrait and one for landscape orientation. For a closer look at the inverter, try this youtube video. This next video is focused on the new trunk cable system that is required for this inverter. There also can be more inverters on each trunk cable, since it is 12 gauge instead of 14 gauge.
Enphase has predicted that there will be shortages of the M190 inverter in Ontario, but they will have plenty of the new inverter, since it is easier to manufacture, and it will become the higher volume product.
 
 
Can You Help Me Install my Own System?
Yes we can provide advice and on-site supporting consulting services, but some limits apply:
  • You must do the electrical wiring yourself, or hire an electrician to do the AC side of the system.
  • We charge a reasonable consulting fee for our time
  • We will assess your ability to handle the challenges of such a project, and it should not be the first DIY project you have done. If you are getting out of your depth we will tactfully recommend that you get help with critical sections of the project, or even get a turnkey installation.
As you might assume, a DIY installation is significantly less expensive than a turnkey system, even if the same components are used. The sales and installation company is making a markup on the panels and inverters, and on the labour costs of the installation crew.
Is the electricity I generate taxable?
Yes and No. If you participate in the GST program, then you are paid HST on the power you generate, and you have to remit this to the Federal Government.
If you earn less than the threshold amount from this and other business than you may be exempt from paying GST/HST and you will not be paid GST/HST on the electricity that you generate.
Is the revenue I generate treated as taxable Income?

Yes. Since the payments you receive come from a Provincial crown corporation, this income may be reported to the Government for income tax purposes. One bit of good news is that the asset that generates the income is in a HIGHLY favourable CCA class that allows up to 50% depreciation per year. This can in some situations significantly reduce the tax bite while you are paying down the cost of the system.

Which way does my roof have to face?
You get the maximum amount of power generation when the roof has an exact due south exposure. Please ignore any myths to the contrary. Also for a stationary system in the Ottawa Valley a 45 degree slope is ideal, but a 30 degree slope is 2nd best. The 45 degree slope will shed snow better, and will stay cleaner as rain will run down it more energetically. This is the best choice for an unattended system!
What will a tracking system do for me?
A typical system with dual axis tracking will produce about 30% more revenue. However this costs more, and it has moving parts, so it is less reliable. The additional cost will extend the time to break even. Your panels will still be working fine in 20 years, and will still be good for some more years of use. Will the company that made the tracking mount system still be in business in 20 years to service it if it breaks down?
Are You Qualified?
There is no formal qualification standard in Ontario. Our principle has taken a training course in Toronto at a not-for-profit environmental centre, currently said to be the best available. This course included training by the ESA on the application of the Electrical Safety Code to Photovoltaic Systems.

In addition he is an Electronics Hardware Designer,and thus understands the electrical part of the system thoroughly, and can diagnose and repair problems with a malfunctioning system. He has spent a career designing products, and is superlative at solving design challenges.

He owns a 10 kW microFIT ground mounted system that is connected to the grid. He did all of the work ourselves, and the ground mounted racking is his own design.

He also has designed and built with his own hands a super-insulated house and has done renovations on other houses.

He also is an NRCan certified Energy Advisor, trained to assess the energy efficiency of a home, and to promote better use of our energy resources.

Where does the green power go?
Some people pay more for green electricity to encourage switching away from coal fired generation. Some of the high price that the producers receive is recovered from such willing customers. The reality of an electrical grid is that the power you produce goes mostly to your own house and to those of your closest neighbours. It can't be steered to go only to the houses of those who are willing to pay more for green electricity.
What happens after 20 years?
Your Photovoltaic panels should still be producing about 84% of the power they produced when they were new. The OPA will probably still continue to buy power from your system, but the price they pay will be closer to the market value of that power at that time. If they did not agree to buy your power, you could change the bulk inverter and add some batteries and switch to an off-grid system.

Here is a picture of a solar panel that is located outdoors north of Toronto that was installed in 1982 and is still producing electricity on the day that I took this photo in 2010. Solar cell and solar panel manufacturing has improved since then, and are even more reliable.

1982 panel
What If I Sell My Home with the Photovoltaic System?
You can transfer your contract to the new owner, and they start to get the cheques, the contract continues. Therefore you can sell your home for more since it has this income generating resource. This is described in the OPA's overview document.
What happens if the power goes off?
If the local hydro company has a power failure, the inverters will not continue to run, but will shut down within 1/30th of a second. This will protect the inverter from trying to drive a near short circuit load for it which would be the total load of your home and all your neighbours. It will also keep the hydro's repair crews safe. The technical term is anti-islanding. You will need a generator just like everyone else if you want to have power during a storm induced outage.
Can I Cut Trees as Part of My Installation?
The OPA has no rules about cutting trees. However there may be restrictions about tree cutting at the municipal level or by the Ministry of Environment.
What is a WEEB?
A WEEB is a short form for Washer, Electrical Equipment Bond . This name was coined by WILEY ELECTRONICS LLC. This part permits PV panels to be directly ground bonded to the aluminium mounting rails. The rails then connect to each other and ground. The part consist of special washers with sharp ridges on them that penetrate through the non-conductive coating of the aluminium module frames and mounting racks.
Is A Licensed Electrician Required for hooking up the Panels?
No. The homeowner has always been able to do this. Recently a lobby group tried to make this require a license, but that was defeated. March 31, 2012, the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) ruled in favour of the solar industry in its dismissal of an appeal by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Ontario Ministry of Labour. CanSIA played a key role providing an industry focused submission illustrating, as the OLRB noted, that the matter had a far reaching impact. CanSIA realized from the outset that while the focus was in Ontario, the precedent set could have spread across the country. The appeal sought to remove the ability of non-electricians to perform solar installations. The issue centred on whether an "MC4 Plug In Connector" is considered a 'convenience receptacle' within the Ontario Construction Project regulations. If it had been determined that the MC4 was not a convenience receptacle, the IBEW argued that only certified electricians (or apprentice electricians) should be permitted to connect them. The ruling means that non-electricians are still able to work with these connectors provided they have the proper technical, health, and safety training.
Can a microFIT or FIT installation go on agricultural Land?
The OPA will not approve applications that are located on land zoned agricultural land with class 1 or 2 soil. PV installed on agricultural land with class 3 to class 7 soil is fine. If the soil is class 1 or 2, but the land is zoned for any other zoning other than agricultural, then this is also acceptable to the OPA. With the revised rules expected in May 2012, this will change to class 1,2 or 3 soils may not be used for solar installations.
What are the latest OPA rule changes?
The OPA has made a rule change that applies to all microFIT applications submitted on or after December 8, 2010. Applicants will need to obtain an offer to connect from their local distribution company before the OPA issues a microFIT conditional offer of contract. Local distribution companies will be required to screen applicants to ensure they can connect prior to the OPA issuing a microFIT conditional offer.
On Nov 8, 2010 the OPA announced that an extension will be granted to meeting the 40% Ontario content rule to: " Those applicants who received a conditional offer before May 31, 2010, will be granted an extension on the conditional offer to May 31, 2011."

For ground-mounted solar PV applications submitted after noon on July 2, 2010 and for all rooftop applications

In recognition of potential delays in getting projects connected during the month of December 2010, microFIT solar PV projects will be eligible for the 40 percent domestic content level if either of the following requirements is met:

  1. the project is connected to the distribution system by December 31, 2010
    OR

  2. the project is installed and has been issued a connection authorization by the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) by December 1, 2010.

There are restrictions on the zoning of property for microFIT and FIT projects, the property can NOT be zoned residential, and at can't be adjacent to any residential zoned property.

The ESA has announced "Effective January 1, 2014, AFCI protection is required for Photovoltaic systems with dc source circuits, dc output circuits, or both, on or penetrating a building and operating at a maximum system voltage of 80 V or greater". This will apply to most microfit and net metering installations.

The Ontario content rule has been changed with version 3.0, so that non-Ontario made inverters and solar modules can be used.

For more details on these, or future changes please visit the OPA website, OPA Updates